Film and TV business model offers composers a 'steady income'

Music royalties ‘non-existent’ for game composers

Royalties from video game music are ‘non-existent’ for composers, say several of the industry’s most well-known names.

Borderlands 2 composer Jesper Kyd (pictured), Tomb Raider composer Jason Graves and Harry Potter composer James Hannigan expressed their displeasure that the games industry still does not pay composers for the repeat use of their creative work, which are now being consumed more frequently by audiences outside of games themselves.

“Film composers have more of a steady income,” said Kyd, speaking at Game Music Connect in London.

“Film composers do a bunch of films, and they get a royalty cheque for their work every month. We don’t get that as game composers.”

Kyd used the example of film DVDs, saying that composers make no money from them. It is the soundtracks that they get a cut from; often a fifty-fifty split with the publisher or studio.

He added that film and TV composers are paid through royalties from their work whenever it is used in adverts or repeated on television.

By contrast, game composers are often paid a flat fee for their work, and do not make money directly from the sale of the game in which their music appears.

James Hannigan commented that this treatment of composers is a factor of the games business still not having the structures in place to protect creatives.

“The games industry came out of the computer industry. It didn’t have anything in place to [protect the creatives and composers], like the music and entertainment industries do.”

Richard Jacques, the composer behind Mass Effect and James Bond 007: Blood Stone, said that “[all aspiring composers] should understand the [music] publishing business”. Because of the way the business works, it is possible to make more money from publishing rights in some cases.

Halo composer Martin O’Donnell said that when he started work on video game music he made sure to guarantee that a soundtrack release was included in his agreement. The in-house Bungie composer also expressed surprise that his peers are expected to work to ‘minute budgets’ on game projects.

“I’d rather people said, ‘hey, we’ll pay you for your creativity, whatever it turns into’,” said O’Donnell.

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